As the Welsh wizard continues to restlessly reinvent himself, he pauses for thought on the subject of instrument abuse, working with Lou Reed and Nico, and hanging out with David Bowie. Interview: Tom Pinnock. Originally published in Uncut’s February 2016 issue (Take 224).
“I’m sorry, I just saw a bobcat walking past my window,” says John Cale, halting mid-speech. “I’m really glad I’m not outside. Are they ferocious? Well, you certainly don’t want to corner them…”
The same could perhaps be said of Cale – for the last half-century, one of Wales’ greatest musicians has doggedly refused to be tied down or labelled, whether he’s producing The Stooges, Patti Smith or the Happy Mondays, collaborating with Brian Eno and Nico or making his own wildly eclectic, and sometimes difficult, music.
Always keen to move forward, today Cale is most interested in discussing his new release, M:FANS, a futuristic reworking of his dark, claustrophobic 1982 album, Music For A New Society. However, he’s happy to field queries on, among other topics, working with David Bowie, buying boxes of tangerines, the end of The Velvet Underground, viola torture and the brand new music he’s recording now.
“I’m looking forward to getting my other new songs out,” he tells us on the line from California. “I have a studio at home, so all I do is go in the studio every day and write songs. Then there are these new scales that I’ve been using live, they do this weird thing to the songs. It’s like they make the arrangements really fizzy, like there’s a built-in Doppler effect…”
Is it true that most of Music For A New Society was written on the spot, just before recording?
Uh, yeah, barely. It was meant to be a solo album, so I was meant to have a pile of instruments around me and have the songs come from whatever instrument I was picking up at the time. So you sit down at the piano and you see what happens. But then, it sort of spread out and, of course, there’s Allen Lanier [on “Changes Made”]… Most of the others were really meant to be stream of consciousness, improvised songs. You start with an idea and you develop it, but it had to be in real time, you had to develop it there and then. I was in the studio for 10 days – I put myself under that pressure. I wasn’t in a very good place at the time and it was all about changes, about changing me, changing the people around me. Some of them I wished would go away, and I wanted to go away; I didn’t want to be in that circumstance, so it all comes out in the mix. M:FANS is really what I wanted the original to be.
Is there any chance of Caribbean Sunset being reissued?
Adam Godwin, via email
That’s really not on my mind at the moment. I’m working with Domino to try and put several other reissue ideas on the table, but we’re not there yet. There’s a reason I wanted to revisit Music For A New Society, because it contained a lot of tension and a lot of – what do you call it? – mental grinding.